Brisket…anyone got a bun?

Got our brisket in. Really loved the taste, but it was so overdone it was nearly impossible to get a good slice.

Chopped brisket it is!

And then there was one…

Here’s your pork!

And the ribs are in…

Two down, two to go!

They look nice, rub and sauce were good, but not thrilled with the flavor if the meat.

Chicken in in Renton!

First time cooking on the new Weber 18.5 in Smokey Joe.

Pretty happy how the chicken came out. Need a little more practice time on the cooker to get that skin crisped.

The flavor, though, was spot on.

All-in in Chehalis!

Since we haven’t been able to compete as much as we were hoping this season (bathroom remodel and work getting in the way…), we’re going all)in this weekend.

Christene’s cooking Tolbert (Texas red) and home style chili on Saturday, while I’m doing a full Dutch Oven cook. We’re then doing a full competition BBQ cook.

A long weekend this will be. But I’m really happy with the dishes I have planned for the DO cook.

Hog Wild About Whole Hog!

Well…less a whole hog and more a small pig.  All the awesome in a smaller package!

(Before I get down to business, I’d just like to take a moment to apologize for my absence – I promise to make it up to you!)

So, onward with the pig!

As part of some cooking demos at a BBQ festival this last weekend, I cooked two whole hogs: one for “show” for the public to look at and aim their camera phones at all day, and the other to demo cook and serve.  Through the magic of photography I documented all the steps, the better to improve this little corner of the internet.

Many websites recommend ordering your pig from a butcher, and having the butcher do most of this work for you.  Honestly, with a small animal (at least up to 75 pounds) it seems best to do the cutting and breaking yourself.  It isn’t that difficult, and will give you a bit more money for beer and bourbon.

For reference, the pig splayed below for your enjoyment weighed in at about 35 pounds.

Tool List

  • Good (I used Fiskars) pruning sheers.  Needless to say, if you take these out of the gardening equipment, clean them well and don’t tell your wife!
  • A sharp knife.
  • A sharp cleaver.  Some people recommend a sharp hatchet or ax, but with a longer working area I think you get better control with the cleaver.
  • A rubber mallet (mine’s a five pounder).
  • A sturdy table.
  • Trash can

Optional

  • 1/2 inch plywood covered with aluminum foil.
  • Disposable cutting boards.  (Yes, they’re a little pricey, but they’re awesome for food safety!)
  • Clamps

Before You Begin

The first thing to do is to take a large piece of plywood (about 3′ x 5′) and cover it in aluminum foil.  Next, clamp the plywood and a couple of the disposable cutting boards to your work table; you’ll be able to see this in a number of the photos.  This gives you three things in one swoop: extra strength for the table; a clean and easy-to-clean work space; and an easy way to move the pig to the smoker once s/he is tuned up.

Also, remember to get your smoker up to temperature:  (225 to 250) °F.

Snip and Slice

Splitting the Breast Bone

Splitting the Breast Bone

First thing to do is to use those shears to cut through the breast bone; on a bigger pig this may be something you’ll need to do with a small power saw.  With the breast bone split, push the breast apart to snap the shoulder joints, further opening up the pig.

Now that the cavity is open use a knife to trim away the extra fat and skin and any little bits of innards that the butcher left behind.

Trimming Excess Skin

Trimming Excess Skin

And it’s time for some fun!

Splitting the Spine

In order for the pig to lie flat, the spine needs to be split.

The first step is to cut through the cartilage – but not the back of the neck! – at the top of the spine.

Cutting Through the Cartilage at the Top of the Spine

Cutting Through the Cartilage at the Top of the Spine

With your cleaver and mallet, split the spine down the middle, taking care to not cut through the back of the pig.

Splitting the Spine

Splitting the Spine

Continuing to Split the Spine

Continuing to Split the Spine

After the First Pass Split

After the First Pass Split

Working “gently”, it may take two passes to get the spine split as much as you want.

Last Cut to Split the Spine

Last Cut to Split the Spine

Some Final Trimming

By now your pig should be in a very inappropriate-looking position.

All Split Up

All Split Up

This is the time to do any final bits of trimming to make sure it’s all cleaned up inside.

Final Trimming of the Insides

Final Trimming of the Insides

When you barbecue ribs, you pull off the membrane.  This is just a wee bit more difficult with a whole hog, so scoring the rib membrane in a diamond pattern will work just as well.  (When I’m making a big mess of ribs and don’t have the time to pull all those membranes, I’ll score them and can’t tell the difference.)

Once you’re done with the insides, use your hammer and cleaver to chop off the feet at the ankle joints.

Separating The Ribs

One last step with the sharp tools, and it will be time to inject.  To make it easier to pull everything apart – especially the ribs – once the pig is cooked, separate the top of the ribs from the spine.  This is definitely something that will take a sharp knife and patience.  At the end of the process, it will totally be worth it.

With your knife, simply cut through the rib-spine joints down each side of the pig.

Starting to Separate the Ribs from the Spine

Starting to Separate the Ribs from the Spine

Ribs Separated from the Spine

Ribs Separated from the Spine

All Prepped and Ready to Inject

All Prepped and Ready to Inject

Inject Your Pig

You can inject your pig with just about any type of flavor you like.  The simplest is apple juice, or apple juice flavored with your preferred BBQ rub.

You’ll want to inject in several locations both the hams and the shoulders, and as much of the belly and back meat as possible.  You’ll know it is working when you see the meat puff up.

Injecting a Ham

Injecting a Ham

Injecting the Shoulder

Injecting the Shoulder

Injecting the Belly

Injecting the Belly

Rubbing It Up

Last step before putting the pig in the smoker, is to season it up.  Using your favorite pork rub (the one I used here is a combination of Johnny’s Seasoning Salt, Sugar, Cumin, and Allspice). There’s no need to be shy with the seasoning – put on a good coating and press it into the meat.

Seasoning the Pig

Seasoning the Pig

Pressing in the Rub

Pressing in the Rub

Along with rubbing all the meat in the cavity, you should also get some rub under the skin of the hams and shoulders.  You’ll need to use your knife to separate the skin of the legs from the meat.

Pulling the Skin Away from the Ham

Pulling the Skin Away from the Ham

Seasoning Under the Ham Skin

Seasoning Under the Ham Skin

Time to Cook

Get your pig into the smoker (by now it should be at the smoking temperature of (225 to 250) °F; remember to get some help with a bigger pig.

The Pig in the Smoker

The Pig in the Smoker

If you want to rub the outside of the pig, this is a great time to do it.  Rubbing the pig skin with vegetable oil will also help crisp up the skin.

Like all barbecue, cooking times will vary based on the size of the pig, control of the smoker temperature, and the environmental conditions.  The cooked hog will stay hot resting in a hot box (ice chest) covered in some towels for two to three hours.  Use this time as a buffer to make sure your pig is cooked in time for your feasting.

Approximate Cooking Times:

(30 to 40) pounds:  (5 to 6) hours
75 pounds:  (6 to 7) hours
100 pounds:  (7 to 8) hours
125 pounds:  (8 to 9) hours

Target Temperature:

160 °F in the legs

As you approach the end of your cooking time, watch your meat temperature.  Take your cooked pig off the smoker for it’s post-cook nap once the hams and shoulders hit 160 °F.

Taking the pig off the smoker is definitely a time for caution.  Everything is hot, and there is a lot of grease.  A couple of people with heat-proof gloves will make it safe and easy.

Cooked and Beautiful

Cooked and Beautiful

Time To Eat!

Keep in mind that pulling apart a cooked pig is a messy proposition:  there’s going to be a lot of grease and fat and skin.  You’ll want to make sure you’re protected from hot splatters; if you care about the ground around you, protect that as well.

You can serve the parts of the pig however you like, but best is to pull all the meat, toss it with some of the juice.  If they’re large enough, lift out and slice the ribs.   In the case of a small pig like the one here, it works better to strip the meat off the bones and add it to the all the shredded goodness.

Give everyone a beverage and a plate, and have at it!

Let’s Talk About Ham, Baby!

Not just any ham, but home-cured and smoked ham.

So, in November, 2011 (yes, that was 1.5 years ago, but bear with me…) I popped into my local grocery store to find they had a few pork legs sitting in the meat department, for a really good price.  This isn’t a normal occurrence; in fact, it hasn’t happened since.  Not one to pass up an opportunity to try something new with the smoker, I picked up a couple of them and threw them into the freezer for future use.

I pulled the first one out for Christmas 2011, and headed off to the internet for some ideas.  I found and used this recipe from The Dizzy Pig Barbecue Company as a guide.  I brined the leg for about 4 days, smoked it up, and finished it in the oven.  It wasn’t bad.  In fact, it was pretty good.  But there were errors made – not injecting and not brining long enough.  After cutting into the ham, what I found was that I had a pork leg that was ham half through, and roast pork the rest of the way to the bone.  Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo, because it was pretty cool looking (but obviously not what I was after).

Fast Forward to Christmas 2012.  I decided to give it another go, and to get it right.

I poked some more around the nets, and again settled on the folks at The Dizzy Pig for my guide.  And this time I took notes and photos, to pass on to you.

Remember: Wisdom is learning from others’ experience!

A major divergence I took from the Dizzy Pig folks is that I left on the rind and fat.  I love their suggestion of removing and rendering the fat to make your own lard.  And, of course, the rind can be turned into chicharones.  But I and my family love the skin after it has been brine and baked, so there you go.  One of the joys of cooking is to do what makes you and those around you happy.

Note:  I used a 10.7 pound ham for this recipe.

Step 1:  Defrost the Pork Leg
Well, that’s pretty self-explanatory.  I moved it from the freezer to the fridge about a week before brine time.

Step 2:  Make the Brine

In a large, non-reactive (stainless steel or glass, not aluminum) pot combine:

1/8 Cup White Pepper
1/4 Cup Whole Cloves
1/2 Cup Granulated Onion1/2 Cup Granulated Garlic
3 Cups Tender Quick
3 Cups Brown Sugar
16 oz Maple Syrup
240 oz (30 Cups) Cold Water

Heat and stir until the ingredients are dissolved.
Cool the brine to 40 degrees F.  This is critical – you don’t want to put your cold pork into a hot brine!

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Brine Temperature

Step 3:  Brine the Ham

One the brine is cooled, inject 1.5 to 2 cups deep in the meat and around the bone.  (The Dizzy Pig folks recommend a cup per every 4 to 5 pounds.)

Use the remainder of the brine to cure your ham.

Place the ham in a container that fits in an ice chest or your refrigerator.  I’m lucky enough that my barbecue fridge can hold a 5 gallon bucket.

Image

Ham in the Bucket

I also was fortunate enough that the pork leg wedged perfectly in the bottom of the bucket.  Once the brine was added, the leg didn’t float.  If yours does, make sure to use a large plate with a weight or something similar to weigh it down under the brine.

Non-Required Step:  Make Sure You Have a Good Assistant

Image

Montana Trying (Hoping?) To Help

Step 4: Brine the Pork

With an 11 pound ham, I left it in the brine for about 4 1/2 days.  Between the injection and the brine time, that was plenty to turn this pork leg into a ham.

It isn’t completely obvious in the next photo, but after the brining, the meat had definitely taken on a pinkish hue.

Brined Ham

Brined Ham

Step 5: Rinse the Ham

At this point if you were to cook and eat the ham, you would need to chase it with a lot of water (or beer…) – it would be extremely salty!

Side Note:  If you order a cured Tennessee ham, they also need to be soaked – usually for several days – before cooking.

I emptied the brine out of the bucket, replaced the ham, filled it with water, and let it have a nice soak (in the refrigerator!) for about two hours.  A quick switch of the water and a second bath, and the ham was ready for the smoker.

Step 6: Smoke the Ham

Since Christmas dinner was at my in-laws’ house, the entire cook wouldn’t happen on the smoker.  In this case, the plan was to smoke the ham and then fully cook it in the oven.

The ham was smoked with hickory (you can’t beat a classic!) at about 200°F for three hours.  It’s important to remember that much more than that will be too much smoke for most any meat.

Here you can see the difference in color from the smoke – starting to look like the real thing!

Smoked Ham

Smoked Ham

With the smoking completed, I bundled up the ham in a small ice chest, and headed off for Christmas Eve dinner.

Step 6: Cook the Ham

About some things, I can be a bit of a traditionalist.  Prior to cooking, I used a sharp knife to score the skin in the classic diamond pattern.  Next time through, I’ll likely do this step before smoking; the smoking process did make the skin a bit tougher than when strictly “raw”.

After scoring, I cooked them ham at 350°F until it reached 160°F inside – about 2.5 hours cooking time.  Here she is cooked…and with a few skin tester pieces missing…sometimes temptation can be impossible to resist.

Cooked Ham

Cooked Ham

Step 7: Carve and Eat and Enjoy!

I’m hoping you can figure this part out for yourself.  And don’t forget to save that lovely bone for next week’s soup!

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